Pooka! was the third entry in Hulu’s Into the Dark series of holiday-themed horror movies, and nearly 20 editions in, it remains the best IMO. It also features the most identifiable titular character in the franchise, so it’s not surprising that it would be the first to receive the sequel treatment. What is surprising, honestly, is that Pooka Lives!, like Pooka!, stars a black actor — and specifically, not the SAME black actor NOR a black actor playing a character who is in any way related to the black star of the first film. As it turns out, Pooka likes to torment black men more than white people in “stand your ground” states. (Fun fact: in both films, the guy inside the Pooka costume — or one of the costumes, at least — is also black: Gene Freeman. Look it up.)
This time around, it’s Malcolm Barrett (Timeless) in the starring role, playing Derrick, a writer on the run from the rabid fans of a douchey Internet celebrity named Dax (Motoki Maxted) who took offense to an unspecified slight Derrick wrote in a book about online personalities. Doxed and harassed, Derrick decides to lay low in Spring Valley, the sleepy little town in which he grew up and from which he was all too eager to leave for the bright lights of New York City.
Spring Valley also happens to be home to the company that makes the Pooka toy, Spectacular Contraptions Inc. (SCI), where Derrick gets a job as a copywriter. He learns that a former classmate, Ellie (Rachel Bloom), actually came up with the idea for the doll but went crazy when the company tried to redesign it, killing her husband and herself.
During a welcome home party with other classmates — former flame Susan (Lyndie Greenwood), married couple Matt and Molly (Jonah Ray and Felicia Day) and local cop Bennie (Gavin Stenhouse) — Derrick suggests that they create an online character to “fuck with other people online for a change, especially Jax.” Inspired by urban legends like Bloody Mary and Momo, the idea I suppose is to convince people to make fools of themselves performing a ridiculous ritual to conjure the spirit of Ellie, but the plan seems flawed — in part because this is a pretty tame form of revenge and in part because it relies on their random post magically going viral — but hey, this is a movie, so of course it does.
And because this is a horror movie, people who perform their made-up ritual actually end up conjuring something supernatural — not Ellie, but rather a man-sized Pooka with a homicidal streak. Now, it’s up to Derrick and his pals to figure out how to end what they started before maniacal Pookas turn the world into a bloodbath.
Even before it starts, Pooka Lives! is fighting an uphill battle — not only because Pooka! is such a bold and striking film to live up to, but also because the sequel neglected to choose the obvious and far superior title: APOOKALYPSE NOW. Still, while it never reaches the level of Pooka!, Pooka Lives! holds its own as one of the better Into the Dark entries, a fun skewering of Internet culture that benefits from a likable cast and lighthearted direction from Alejandro Brugués, the filmmaker behind one of the all-time great zom coms, Juan of the Dead.
Since it doesn’t reference the first movie, Pooka Lives! could easily function as a standalone film — and it arguably works better that way because it has such a different tone. Whereas Pooka! was a brooding, chaotic fever dream in which any humor was the darkest of dark, Pooka Lives! is a much more conventional horror-comedy with broader, more accessible humor.
As such, the writing is a bit pedestrian, with a clunky setup and sitcom jokes that occasionally fall flat, but the veteran ensemble of familiar faces and the campy appeal of the Pooka character carry us through the bumpy parts. The script picks up in the latter half via the clever narrative of the friends’ story taking on a life of its own — as is the Internet’s way — and while it never reaches its full potential for zaniness, it makes for a breezy diversion that toys with both genre tropes and its own creepypasta concept, going so far as to stage its content around its own made-up “holiday,” Pooka Day.